Muppets Tonight: Today – Billy Crystal

Muppets Tonight

Jarrod Fairclough – Welcome to Muppets Tonight: Today, a series where we take a look back at the 1990’s version of a new Muppet Show, which was cancelled by ABC after 10 episodes, only to have the full 22 episodes run a year later on The Disney Channel.  The series can be found ready to download on various torrent sites.
Today’s review focuses on Episode 3, guest starring comedian and actor Billy Crystal.

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The old adage goes ‘Third Times A Charm’, and it appears that this was especially true for the third episode broadcast of Muppets Tonight.  While still never quite reaching the heights of it’s predecessor, this episode proved just what the show could do right, aided not only by the stellar Billy Crystal, but Frank Oz in fine form as Miss Piggy, Sam the Eagle, Fozzie Bear and Animal.

I preface this entire thing by saying that not only do I have the upmost respect for Eric Jacobson and think he’s an incredible performer, but I also just really like the guy in general.  I’ve met him a few times, and he’s been wonderfully sweet and humble and generous.  But it’s episodes like this that make me really miss Frank being in the fold when it comes to The Muppets.  Frank’s little asides as Sam, his over commitment to ‘fake sneezes’ with Piggy, all of that is unrivaled, and is exactly the sort of thing The Muppets need to revitalize them for a modern era.  Would it be worth bringing Frank back, even in a directorial role?  Absolutely.  Do I think Disney are silly for not doing it?  Absolutely.  Do I think it’ll happen anytime soon?  No, I do not.  But I’m hoping with the recent developments over the past 12 months that the performers are getting a little more freedom with their characters, perhaps they’ll all be let off the leash a little bit and we’ll be getting that snarkiness that makes The Muppets edgy while still being family friendly.

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And while Frank, Steve Whitmire, Bill Barretta, Kevin Clash and Dave Goelz get a decent amount to do in this episode, one person short changed is Jerry Nelson.  Sure, Jerry gets a couple of lines here and there as a what-not or a cow, but aside from Statler he has no consistent character work, and according to Muppet Wiki, Floyd didn’t even show up after the first 2 episodes.  And that’s a damn shame, because as an original performer he deserved a lot more.  That said, the few things he does get to do in this episode are great, his disgruntled slate operator a personal favorite.

Billy Crystal shines here, playing his role perfectly.  The key to playing opposite a Muppet, even a Sesame one, is to let them do their thing and not overshadow them – believe me, I know!  Billy is among the ranks of guest stars like John Cleese or Steve Martin, who pushed their limits but still didn’t overdo it enough to steal the focus on where it needs to be, which is with the Muppets.  His impressions are spot on, he managed to hold his own in the City Shtickers sketch with Fozzie and Kermit, and his finale is perfectly silly.  He’s exactly the kind of guest star this show needed to show off what it could do right.

Of course, that’s not to say EVERYTHING this show had going for it worked.  God knows there were plenty of things Muppets Tonight had that I’m glad arent’t around anymore.  Andy and Randy Pig were divisive anyway, but their shtick got old very quickly, no matter how much comedic energy Steve and Dave inserted in to them.  Mr Poodlepants is another.  Yes, the Muppets are zany.  But they’re never zany for the sake of zany.  Mr Poodlepants was a rare example of them forgetting this.

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All in all, this was the best episode of Muppets Tonight yet, thanks in part to both Billy and Frank.  Of course, Frank would drift in and out as he wasn’t always available, and the shows ‘snarkiness’ definitely drifted in and out with him, but it’s interesting to watch the Muppet performers and writers experimenting with the new format.  One has to wonder what would have happened if this show had succeeded.  Would be have ended up with Muppets Most Wanted revolving around Mr Poodlepants?  I shudder at the thought.

Episode Highlight: Bobo’s recurring debate with Larry King is funny enough in itself, but the revelation that Larry was in deed on the doorlist only excels it.

Episode Lowlight: The ending to the Howard Tubman sketch has his recently deceased Aunt coming back to life, rendering his brief attempt to lose weight futile.  Would it not have been funnier to have him somehow lose the 100 pounds, be skinny and healthy, and then not get the money?  That’s what I’d have done.

Most Valuable Muppet Performer: I mean, you’ve read the review – it’s Frank Oz.

Most Classically Muppety Moment: If someone inserted ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ from this episode in to an old episode of The Muppet Show, I genuinely don’t think I’d be able to tell.  It was exactly the sort of thing they would have done in the 70’s.

Oddest Moment: Billy Crystal, as great as he is, explains his jokes a few times, which really isn’t necessary to the comedy of them.

Did You Notice: Link Hogthrob appears as a background extra carrying Billy in during his entrance.

One More Thing: When the lion, played by Frank, starts rampaging through the singing wildlife, he yells ‘Stop it, Ernie!  Stop!’  It’s a fun little nod to Bert and Ernie you’d likely miss unless you were looking for it.

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